Who Died on Niku?

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Was the Seven Site the Site of the Bones Discovery?

Documentary evidence

  • Gallagher's descriptions
  • Reservation of land for him or komitina

Photographic evidence

  • Evidence of logging
  • Evidence of clearing
  • Evidence of trails

Archaeolgical evidence (link to Seven Site report)

  • Fire features
  • Hole
  • Artifacts

Was the Castaway Amelia Earhart?

  • The woman's shoe (Gallagher)
  • The compact
  • The zipper
  • The snap
  • The button

The Kilts Account: Discussion and Speculation

By Tom King

Shortly before Peter MacQuarrie found Gerald Gallagher's correspondence about the bones discovery, we had a couple of highly qualified analysts of oral tradition look at the Kilts account, asking their advice about what in it had, to them, the ring of truth. Both said, in essence, that there was no particular reason to believe any of it.

With Peter's discovery in the Kiribati National Archives, however, we learned that at its core, the Kilts account was true. A skeleton was found, near one end of the island, by a party of islanders, with a cognac bottle and a woman's shoe, and though Gallagher wasn't an "Irish magistrate," didn't hop in the island's 4-oared boat to row the bones to Fiji, and didn't die en route, he was Irish, was in charge of the island, must have sent the bones in the 4-oared whaleboat Nei Manganibuka out to the schooner Nimanoa for the voyage to Fiji, and did die shortly after coming back from Fiji. It's not hard to imagine a conversation among Kilts, a colonist without much English, and an interpreter scrambling the facts of the bones story into the tale that Kilts wound up telling.

The one piece of the Kilts story that doesn't make sense as a loose interpretation of what we know actually happened is the business about the superstitious natives throwing the bones into the sea. Where does that come from? Here's my hypothesis.

I think there were two bones discoveries. I think that after Gallagher left for Fiji, the colonists found a second set of bones, probably on Nutiran. I think they held them, probably in a bag, for Gallagher's return. When he returned and promptly died, I think they decided that messing with bones was not a good idea, and disposed of them by taking them well away from the island and committing them to the deep.

This is not entirely a wild-assed guess -- just mostly one. Consider:

1. When Dirk Ballendorf interviewed residents of Nikumaroro Village in the Solomons (Provide link to Dirk's report), they told him that two skeletons had been found -- one at the SE end of the island, the other at the NW (Nutiran) end.

2. When Barb Norris, Kris Tague and I first interviewed Emily Sikuli, she said that the bones she remembered -- which she associated with the box her father had built -- had been found on Nutiran, "where the plane came down." When Ric and others interviewed her on video later, her story was rather garbled, suggesting to me that she'd been thinking about it and wasn't as sure of her facts as she'd been the first time around.

So there's some real indication of a second skeleton, found on Nutiran. There's no independent indication of its disposal at sea, however; that's found only in the Kilts account.

If there was a second skeleton, whose was it? If the skeleton at the SE end was Earhart's, then one on Nutiran, if it existed, might have been Noonan's. Noonan's death and burial on Nutiran would be consistent with our interpretation of the radio messages indicating that he was injured. However, the situation is complicated by the fact that we know that three bodies of Norwich City crewmen were buried on Nutiran, and others might have washed ashore and gotten buried by natural forces.

At this point, there's probably no way of finding out whether a second skeleton was found, and if it was, what happened to it. But it's one way of making sense of the only part of Floyd Kilts' account that doesn't otherwise bear any relationship to what's reliably documented as having happened.


How to die on Niku 101